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article imageReview: Human and unnatural monsters reside in this week’s releases Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Dec 19, 2018 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include unwanted guests; inhospitable hosts; unwise protagonists; combatants dedicated to their causes; and a horror director that proves he can scale it back as required.
A Simple Favor (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Untitled
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), a mommy vlogger, seeks to uncover the truth behind her best friend Emily's (Blake Lively) sudden disappearance from their small town. Stephanie is joined by Emily's husband, Sean (Henry Golding), in her search.
This is a fast-moving narrative that almost attempts to maintain too quick of a pace at the cost of a more coherent story. On the other hand, its absurdity is also one of its charms. Stephanie is the perfect mom all the other parents hate… except Emily because she’s rarely around to be annoyed by Stephanie’s energy and crafts. When their sons become best friends, Stephanie thinks she’s gained a BFF too even though it generally looks more like Emily is using her. Once the movie catches up to her disappearance, everyone and everything starts to look shady. The film has a conflicting tone as they investigate a grim murder mystery while Stephanie’s positive energy dominates most scenes. It’s a bit uneven for director Paul Feig, but it still works for the most part.
Special features include: three audio commentaries with cast and crew; deleted scenes; eight featurettes; “Flash Mob”; and gag reel. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Air Strike (Blu-ray & DVD)
Untitled
VVS Films
As a U.S. Army colonel (Bruce Willis) trains Chinese aviators to battle Japanese fighters, a hotheaded pilot begs to fly a powerful bomber that could stop the attacks. Meanwhile, a team of spies and refugees must carry a game-changing decoder device through the war-torn countryside.
With the exception of the primarily Chinese cast, this is a fairly typical war drama. Outside of a few aerial firefights, most of the story unfolds on the ground as the soldiers contend with their own egos, grief and regular enemy air raids. There’s a secondary focus on the locals, who are trying to go on with life in spite of the constant threat, as well as those who must flee because it’s become too dangerous or their homes have been destroyed. There’s also some significant sacrifices made by the pilots as they try to save their comrades. The English dub is acceptable, though it almost would’ve been better with the original audio so the voices were more rooted in the scenes.
There are no special features. (VVS Films)
Horror of Dracula (Blu-ray)
Untitled
Warner Archive Collection
Dracula (Christopher Lee), a centuries old Transylvanian nobleman damned to an eternal half-life, regularly finds new victims. He also finds Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), a scientist who becomes the Count’s implacable foe in a deadly game of bat and mouse.
This adaptation is a variation of Bram Stoker’s novel that features many of the same characters, but the direction of the narrative is somewhat different. In this version, Jonathan Harkness goes to Dracula’s home with the intention of killing the vampire, though he’s distracted by one of the castle’s female prisoners. It’s after this attack that Dracula starts to prey on all the women in his would-be assassin’s life. This is a classic vampire narrative, which requires the heroes to rely on their wits and courage to gain the upper-hand against the supernatural killer. However, in spite of the many superhuman abilities attributed to the creature of the night, his actual power seems to be subtler but still formidable.
Special features include: (Warner Archive Collection)
The House with a Clock in its Walls (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Untitled
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) goes to live with his Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) in a creaky and creepy mansion with an eerie tick-tocking heart. But when Lewis soon finds out he’s in the presence of magic practiced by his uncle and neighbor Mrs. Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett), his new town’s dreary aura boosts to life in an exciting and dangerous way.
The story of an orphan who learns to practice magic will now and possibly forever conjure one tale to everyone’s mind… but Harry Potter wasn’t even the only wizard in his own narrative. Lewis, who is already a bit weird, sees magic as a way to connect to his uncle and perhaps impress some of his schoolmates. The banter between Jonathan and Florence is unexpectedly hilarious. They constantly ridicule each other, exchanging creative insults regularly, which always end in a smile, are never said with malice and is why it’s so easy to laugh alongside them. Black and Blanchett’s chemistry is absolutely marvelous as their platonic, old married couple routine repeatedly takes centre stage. Director Eli Roth is better known for his gory pictures, but with this movie he demonstrates he can pull it back for a thrilling, family-friendly fantasy. Instead of relying on blood and violence, he brings this adaptation to life with ominous shadows, sneaky villains and animated objects that provide audiences with a few chills.
Special features include: commentary by director Eli Roth and actor Jack Black; alternate opening and ending with commentary by director Eli Roth and actor Jack Black; deleted scenes with commentary by director Eli Roth and actor Jack Black; “Warlocks and Witches”; “Movie Magic”; “Tick Tock”; “Eli Roth: Director's Journals”; “Owen Goes Behind the Scenes”; “Theme Song Challenge”; “Do You Know Jack Black?”; “Abracadabra!”; “Jack Black's Greatest Fear”; “The Mighty Wurlitzer”; and gag reel. (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
The Jerk (Blu-ray)
Untitled
Shout Factory
Navin Johnson (Steve Martin) is the adopted son of a poor black sharecropping family in Mississippi. When he learns that the world is a much bigger place than he’d ever imagined, Navin sets out on a quest to find his “special purpose.” His adventures lead him to encounter a would-be assassin, jobs in carnivals and gas stations, a life-saving dog, romance with the girl of his dreams and more money than he could ever spend. But his life in the clouds may come crashing down when the source of his new fame and fortune creates disastrous side effects.
When one grows up with nothing, even the smallest gain can seem like a fortune… it doesn’t hurt if you’re not smart enough to know how little you’ve earned either. Navin didn’t have school smarts, but he was a hard-worker and always tried his best, which in most cases was someone else’s worst. The comedy isn’t always smooth as the transitions can sometimes be a bit choppy, which isn’t entirely surprising since Martin was just moving to film from stand-up and the movie’s idea stemmed from one of his gags. Unfortunately, the narrative hasn’t aged as well as some others, but Martin’s sense of humour still resonates.
Special features include: “A Conversation with Steve Martin and Carl Reiner”; “A Conversation with Writers Michael Elias and Carl Gottlieb”; “The Lost Film Strips of Father Carols Las Vegas De Cordova”; “Learn How to Play "Tonight You Belong To Me"”; radio spots; and trailers. (Shout Factory)
Monster Party (Blu-ray)
Untitled
RLJ Entertainment
Three thieves plan a daring heist posing as waiters at a fancy Malibu mansion dinner party in hopes of paying off an urgent debt. When their plan goes horribly wrong, the trio realizes the dinner guests are not as innocent as they seem and their simple cash grab becomes a violent and desperate battle to get out of the house alive.
The above synopsis is still almost too descriptive since it makes it easier for viewers to piece together the purpose of the dinner party before its revealed. Nonetheless, it all hits the fan pretty abruptly and then bloody, brutal chaos ensues. The one thing made more interesting by this particular group is no one is safe, regardless of which side they initially began. Conversely, eliminating what appeared to be larger threats turns out to be quite easy, which is both rewarding and disappointing. The conclusion isn’t without surprise, though it would’ve been equally interesting to stay with the other survivor’s next steps.
There are no special features. (RLJ Entertainment)
The Sea Hawk (Blu-ray)
Untitled
Warner Archive Collection
Geoffrey Thorpe (Errol Flynn), a privateering "Sea Hawk," plunders the enemies of England while being publicly scolded by the Queen. Betrayed by Spanish collaborators in the court, Thorpe and his crew must escape captivity and warn the queen of the coming Spanish Armada.
Flynn was the ultimate swashbuckler, rivalling Douglas Fairbanks and starring in many of the best remembered swordplay dramas of the era. This tale was based on the life of a real-life privateer employed by the Queen in the 16th century. The narrative is far more dramatic than Disney’s current pirate offerings as Thorpe finds himself ensnared in foreign plots of political subterfuge and shackled to thwart his interference. There’s also the romance element as he finds love in an unlikely place, which he can only become worthy of by turning over a new leaf. However, the main attraction remains Flynn’s fencing skills as he takes on up to four opponents at a time.
Special features include: “Leonard Maltin hosts ‘Warner Night at the Movies 1940’”; and “The Sea Hawk: Flynn in Action.” (Warner Archive Collection)
Spontaneous Combustion (Blu-ray)
Untitled
Cheezy Movies
A young man (Brad Dourif) finds out that his parents had been used in an atomic-weapons experiment shortly before he was born, and that the results have had some unexpected effects on him.
This movie takes place while the U.S. is experimenting with nuclear weapons, but rather than measuring their destruction, they’re testing to see how the human body responds to radiation. The results are less than ideal as it becomes linked to people bursting into flames. Twenty years later, the son of the test subjects starts to notice weird things — not just about his body, but the people around him. The special effects are surprisingly good considering most of the effects would have been more practical than anyone should’ve felt comfortable with. The concept is pretty far-fetched and more in line with the superpower genre than sci-fi or horror, but that could be what makes it more appealing than expected.
There are no special features. (Cheezy Movies)
Starman [Collector’s Edition] (Blu-ray)
Untitled
Scream Factory
When his spacecraft is shot down over Wisconsin, Starman (Jeff Bridges) arrives at the remote cabin of a distraught young widow, Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen), and clones the form of her dead husband. The alien convinces Jenny to drive him to Arizona, explaining that if he isn't picked up by his mothership in three days, he'll die. Hot on their trail are government agents, intent on capturing the alien, dead or alive. En route, Starman demonstrates the power of universal love, while Jenny rediscovers her human feelings for passion.
This is a sci-fi romance that’s heavier on the alien aspect for most of the movie before getting pretty mushy in the last act. Bridges is spectacular as the spaceman, altering his entire demeanour to portray the character’s unfamiliarity with Earth. He speaks slowly and attempts to mimic what he hears, walks oddly as if he’s not entirely sure how to move his body, and doesn’t really exhibit any facial expressions. Allen is, fittingly, the opposite as she’s very emotive about this bizarre situation in which she’s become entangled. In the meantime, even the government can’t get on the same page about how they want to treat their visitor, though the general inhospitableness presented explains the violent responses portrayed in later films.
Special features include: commentary with director John Carpenter and Jeff Bridges; “They Came from Hollywood: Re-visiting Starman”; making-of featurette; still gallery; TV spots; and trailers. (Scream Factory)
The Super (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Untitled
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Former cop Phil (Patrick John Flueger) takes a job as a superintendent in a Manhattan apartment building. When a teen goes missing, along with several other tenants, Phil suspects a sadistic murderer may be roaming the eerie corridors and that his daughters' lives are in danger. But whom can he trust when everybody around him has something to hide?
This movie begins as a sadistic slasher in which the victims are brutally dispatched before revealing an unforetold supernatural element. Since his wife’s death, Phil and his daughters have not been getting along, but he hopes a new job and home will turn things around. Unfortunately, their apartment is a dump unsuitable for children and the head super is an unsettling man played by Val Kilmer who is always lurking around corners and leering at the girls. There are many transgressors scattered throughout the narrative, but the murder mystery takes an unexpected turn before being completely upended by an imprudent act and an unconventional ending.
Special features include: making-of featurette. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
The Thing from Another World (Blu-ray)
Untitled
Warner Archive Collection
Arctic researchers discover a huge, frozen spaceling inside a crash-landed UFO, then fight for their lives after the murderous being (James Arness) emerges from icy captivity. Will other creatures soon follow? The famed final words of this film are both warning and answer: “Keep watching the skies!”
Notably less menacing than John Carpenter’s remake, this film still lays all the groundwork for its successor. The creature terrifies off screen, inspiring horrific descriptions that let the audience’s imaginations takeover. Even as his crew panics in the face of an alien attack, the captain is level-headed, taking charge immediately while the rest of the men (and woman) fall in line. The build-up to the final confrontation is gripping, which is why it’s unfortunate the actual monster is so underwhelming by today’s standards — but that’s just a consequence of the time and doesn’t really qualify as a fault in an otherwise good sci-fi picture.
There are no special features. (Warner Archive Collection)
The Unnamable (Blu-ray)
Untitled
MVD Visual
College students from Miskatonic University who retreat to an early 18th-century mansion for a weekend of lust are stalked by a fatalistic female that delights in tearing the limbs off her human victims to carry out a centuries-old family curse.
This is the classic story of young people trespassing in an abandoned house and finding way more than they bargained for. The tale begins centuries earlier, when the creature last killed, and fast forwards to a contemporary campus where a popular student likes to tell ghost stories, particularly those by H.P. Lovecraft, which he believes are rooted in reality. The hormone-fuelled youths decide to use the ancient house as their playground, which awakens the beast. It revels in the feast brought to its lair and body parts are scattered throughout the building. In time-honoured, horror tradition, the monster isn’t completely revealed until nearer the end and her appearance is sure to strike fear in anyone unfortunate enough to encounter her.
Special features include: commentary with Charles Klausmeyer, Mark Stephenson, Laura Albert, Eben Ham, Camille Calvet and R. Christopher Biggs; interview with actors, Charles Klausmeyer and Mark Kinsey Stephenson; interview with actor, Eben Ham; interview with actor, Laura Albert; and interview with actor, Mark Parra; interviews with R. Christopher Biggs, special makeup effects artist and makeup artist, Camille Calvet. (MVD Visual)
Venom (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Untitled
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is a broken man after he loses everything, including his job and fiancée. Just when his life is at its lowest, he becomes host to an alien symbiote which results in extraordinary superpowers — transforming him into Venom. Will these powers be enough for this new lethal protector to defeat great evil forces, especially against the far stronger and more weaponized symbiote rival, Riot?
Fans anticipated the release of this movie for some time, but it never really becomes the film they wanted. The mad scientist, blacklisted journalist and defecting researcher are exaggerated stereotypes that seem embellished in order to match the hyperbole of the symbiotes. Venom and Eddie establish a pretty reciprocal relationship relatively quickly, while Riot jumps body to body before miraculously ending up stateside and dropping a storyline that didn’t appear completed. It’s all leading to a big CGI battle in which the two aliens fight for supremacy on Earth, but by the time it gets there many viewers may have already lost interest — which is by no means the fault of the visuals as the high-def release captures the nuances of Venom’s movements acutely.
Special features include: deleted and extended scenes; “Venom Mode”; “From Symbiote to Screen”; “The Lethal Protector in Action”; “Venom Vision”; “Designing Venom”; “Symbiote Secrets”; eight select scenes pre-vis sequences; “Venom” by Eminem music video; “Sunflower” by Post Malone, Swae Lee; and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse sneak peek. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
We, The Marines (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Untitled
Shout Factory
Narrated by former Marine and Academy Award-winning* actor, Gene Hackman, the film honors more than dedication and service; the film offers an unforgettable glimpse into the first-hand experiences of America's always faithful United States Marine Corps and what it takes to become the men and women who honor and defend our country.
This is a brief look at the United States’ highly respected military arm. Visiting different bases, the documentary illustrates how each specializes in a specific type of training based on its environment. Focus types include flight, water, rock climbing, and varied natural elements such as extreme cold or heat. Hackman’s pride in being a Marine veteran can be heard in his voice as he guides viewers through the locations, while emphasizing the hard work that goes into training and the great honour it is to serve. The bonus features includes a number of interviews with still active members who describe their personal relationship with the Corps.
Special features include: addendum with exclusive behind-the-scenes interviews and footage. (Shout Factory)
More about The House with a Clock in its Walls, The Super, Venom, A Simple Favor, Air strike
 
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